St. Thérèse of Lisieux
THE LITTLE FLOWER
""All my life, God surrounded me with love. My first memories are imprinted with the most tender smiles and caresses...Those were the sunny years of my childhood."
Excerpts quoted from LittleFlower.org
Therese was not yet fifteen when she approached the Carmelite authorities again for permission to enter. Again she was refused. The priest-director advised her to return when she was twenty-one. "Of course," he added, "you can always see the bishop. I am only his delegate."
Just before the interview [with the Bishop], Therese had put up her hair, thinking this would make her look older. This amused the bishop, and he never spoke about Therese in later years without recounting her ploy.
Although charmed by her, Bishop Hugonin did not immediately grant Therese's request. He wanted time to consider it, and advised Therese and her father that he would write them regarding his decision.
Therese had planned that, should the Bayeux trip fail, she would go to the Pope himself. Thus in November, 1887, Louis took his daughters, Therese and Celine, to Italy with a group of French pilgrims. Catholics from all over the world were journeying to the Eternal City, to celebrate Leo XIII's Golden Jubilee as a priest.
The great day of the audience with Pope Leo XIII came at the end of their week in Rome. On Sunday, November 20, 1887, "they told us on the Pope's behalf that it was forbidden to speak as this would prolong the audience too much. I turned toward my dear Celine for advice: 'Speak!' she said. A moment later I was at the Holy Father's feet...Lifting tear-filled eyes to his face I cried out: 'Most Holy Father, I have a great favor to ask you!...Holy Father, in honor of your jubilee, permit me to enter Carmel at the age of fifteen.'"
Father Reverony, the leader of the French pilgrimage, stared stonily at this bold little girl, in surprise and displeasure. "Most Holy Father," the priest said coldly, "this is a child who wants to enter Carmel at the age of fifteen. The superiors are considering the matter at the moment."
"Well, my child," the Holy Father replied, "do what the superiors tell you." "Resting my hands on his knees," Therese continued, "I made a final effort, saying, 'Oh, Holy Father, if you say yes, everybody will agree!' He gazed at me speaking these words and stressing each syllable: 'Go - go - you will enter if God wills it.'"
On April 9, 1888, an emotional and tearful, but determined Therese Martin said good-bye to her home and her family. She was going to live "for ever and ever" in the desert with Jesus and twenty-four enclosed companions: she was fifteen years and three months old.
The only cloud on her horizon was the worsening condition of her father, Louis, who had developed cerebral arteriosclerosis. Celine remained at home to care for their father during his long and final illness. The good father was growing senile.
Therese spent the last nine years of her life at the Lisieux Carmel. Her fellow Sisters recognized her as a good nun, nothing more. She was conscientious and capable. Sister Therese worked in the sacristy, cleaned the dining room, painted pictures, composed short pious plays for the Sisters, wrote poems, and lived the intense community prayer life of the cloister. Superiors appointed her to instruct the novices of the community. Externally, there was nothing remarkable about this Carmelite nun.
Therese was affected by the spiritual atmosphere in the community, which was still tainted by Jansenism and the vision of an avenging God. Some of the sisters feared divine justice and suffered badly from scruples. Even after her general confession in May 1888 to Father Pichon, her Jesuit spiritual director, Therese was still uneasy.
But a great peace came over her when she made her profession on September 8, 1890. It was the reading of St. John of the Cross, an unusual choice at the time, which brought her relief. In the "Spiritual Canticle" and the "Living Flame of Love," she discovered "the true Saint of Love."
This, she felt, was the path she was meant to follow. During a community retreat in October, 1891, a Franciscan, Father Alexis Prou, launched her on those "waves of confidence and love," on which she had previously been afraid to venture.